Education comes first at music festival that draws hundreds

Posted: Monday, April 30, 2001

Eight clarinetists worked on their own to prepare Handel's "Water Music." A soloist's voice floated from a school's jazz choir.

Students shouted out the notes as an instructor rapidly flashed cards, and quietly contemplated their breathing as another instructor taught them to relax.

Those were some of the notes that made up the Southeast Alaska Music Festival last week at Juneau-Douglas High School.

The festival attracted hundreds of students from 10 communities, performing in choirs, bands and orchestras, and as soloists and small ensembles of their own making.

Juneau senior Everett Buyarski performed a clarinet solo and joined seven other JDHS clarinetists for an ensemble performance before an adjudicator. The group was invited to do a command performance at an evening show Friday.

"Most of us were getting nervous, especially when we were on stage with a huge group in the audience," Buyarski said. "Once it's over, you get the big sigh of relief and it feels really wonderful to put on a performance like that."

Buyarski said music began for him as something like doing a mathematical equation, but he found that becomes robotic. He's since learned to add expression and emotion. "That's when it becomes fun to do," he said.

Jamilah Pitchford, a junior at Ketchikan High, was one of the soloists in that school's jazz choir.

"Jazz to me is like my rock and stone in life," she said. "It's how I do music. I take the (jazz) class because I can be free, I can scat and improv."

"It's really liberating," said Ketchikan High junior Andy Dupre. "It makes you get in touch with your soul. It helps you to just get away from everything else, find a different side of yourself you didn't know existed."

The music festival lets students from small towns hear other groups.

"I want to listen to how other people play, so I can learn from the mistakes and whatever they're good at," said Cecelia Mills, a singer from Petersburg High.

The festival also is a chance for students to learn from someone other than their own high school teachers, through the adjudications and workshops.

Richard Byrnes, a music publisher and former college teacher in Washington, ran students through flash cards of notes, stops and time signatures before training them to mark time with their feet.

"Musicians all perform feeling the time somewhere in their bodies," he told students. "There's always a back-and-forth movement. It's a way of feeling the time."

Karyl Carlson, who directs choirs at Central Washington University, showed students how to control anxiety with mental exercises. "I am responsible for my mental state," the students chanted.

A lot of the learning happens when adjudicators work with the students after their performances.

"If you think of it as their pointing out your faults, it's detrimental to your state of mind, almost," said Karen Johnson, a Juneau sophomore. "But if you look at it as a learning experience, you can learn a lot from it."

Johnson, Megan Clough and Dorothy Freeman-Wittig earned a superior rating for an a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace." The adjudicator showed them how to blend the vowels among the trio and get more contrast in the soft and loud passages.

Notes were still bursting out of the Ketchikan Jazz Choir as the kids filed into a room backstage Saturday morning.

Carlson showed the students how to lock in on a syncopated rhythm.

"It's almost like someone coming off a diving board. They've got to spring off that surface," Carlson said.

"Enjoy and taste each part of those words."

Eric Fry can be reached at

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